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How ex-journalist and rebellious hacker are training next generation of techies

Audrey Cheng, 22, may at first strike you as an ordinary foreigner out to learn more about Kenya and probably runs some non-governmental organisations, but she is an ex-journalist turned coder who is teaching young Kenyans how to code.

Ms Cheng’s decision to relocate to Nairobi and start a coding school was informed by the upcoming tech startups and demand for coding skills in Kenya.

The ex-business journalist left her high flying journalism career at CNBC and other media organisations in the US and started working in venture capitalism and tech firms.

It was while working in the tech firms that she realised the need for skills as many techprenuers had brilliant ideas but lacked the skills to actualise them.

Her meet up with Frank Tamre, who had dropped out of two different universities citing boredom, saw the birth of Moringa School in January 2015.

Mr Tamre, who hails from Mombasa, had dropped out of a business course at the University of Nairobi after high school and attempts by his parents to transfer him to Strathmore Business School failed as he dropped out as well.

CODING SKILLS

Aged 21, Frank had dropped out of college and was casually working on tech projects that would see him earn as low as Sh500.

He later developed and improved his coding skills through volunteering to work on projects and he was hired by Intel after a dramatic impromptu interview during a drive with the software engineer from Rongai (where they had attended a coding session) to iHub.

“Frank and I met really randomly, so I went in on a Saturday to a learn how to code as I am not like as awesome as Frank. So when I saw him coding and we started talking, I was like what do you think of this idea for a coding school?

“It was like a 5-6 hour conversation and we realised there was a lot of synergy from our skill sets and our passion, me from the business side and Frank on the technical side. We realised we could work together,” said Audrey during an interview with Nairobi News.

For Mr Tamre, his jobs at Microsoft and Intel gave him a platform to learn more and he laid out what he intends to achieve before moving on.

“For me when we met up I knew that she wanted to do this differently and the whole of 2014 was spent me trying to decide between going ahead with Intel or quitting and leaving all that to start the coding school.

FIRST CLASS

It was hard and easy at the same time, thank God all what I had listed to do while at Intel I managed to learn in seven months as they taught me everything in few months. In January this year I just stopped going. I didn’t even know I was supposed to issue a notice, I just left. But right now I have mended that,” narrated Mr Tamre.

The two had to use their savings to start up the school and out of 120 applicants they had their first class of five.

“The courses take 16 weeks and we try to keep the student teacher ratio as we give a one on one attention to each student after which they leave with a portfolio of all the projects accomplished,” added Mr Tamre.

Some students come from corporate which send in their staff to upgrade while others are either high school leavers waiting to join college or graduates.

“We want to work with the big consultancies they want to see papers and not portfolios so we realise it is important to have the papers even as students produce the portfolios. We are working on a couple of partnerships with institutions so as to develop certification,” said Ms Cheng.

The school has so far managed to train 44 coders who work for different tech startup companies as well as deliver products to multinational corporates.